Trainmaster - playtime with a railway theme
- Credit: Archant
A former secondary school teacher never dreamed her plan for her train-loving son would become an award-winning business says Duncan Hall
Chloe Cotton's little boy Jasper was fanatical about trains, but got frustrated when his little brother started breaking up his track set-up.
When Chloe joked to her husband Jeremy that she should take over a sports hall and fill it with train tracks to stop Henry wrecking Jasper's fun she little realised it would develop into a business idea.
Trainmaster, which Chloe launched in her home town of Andover two years ago this month, has now become a multi-award-winning idea, with franchises in Sussex, Berkshire, York, Oxford, Kent, Wiltshire and Tyne and Wear.
"I used to take my children to toddlers' groups, but Jasper is very shy and would end up on my lap," she remembers. "With trains even the shyest child wants to play - they just get absorbed by it. Some walk around with their arms full of trains, others try to build the longest train possible with 50 carriages. I always say to parents it's an anti-social social event - you have 30 children who don't really talk to each other, but all play in their own way."
There is a ride-on train, fancy dress clothes and a crafts table. But the tracks are still the biggest attractions for both boys and girls. "We get girls who turn up in princess dresses who go down onto the floor to play with the trains," says Chloe, who used to be a secondary school teacher. Her three boys, including two-year-old Remi, still take part in the sessions, which attract children ranging from one to 12 years old. "We get older children who are autistic or have special educational needs," she says. "I used to set up sessions for special needs children, but through practice we discovered they actually play together far better in an inclusive group."
Many of the franchises are now run by parents whose children enjoyed the experience so much they wanted to do it in their home town. As well as the hour-long sessions, which are held every six weeks, Trainmaster is available to hire for birthday parties.
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Chloe buys the track online, using an older Thomas the Tank Engine set-up which is a bit tougher and doesn't break under rough play. As the first Thomas the Tank Engine story was published in 1945 she has been approached by the popular steam engine's marketing team as part of their 75th anniversary, and has been given 2,000 trains to distribute. She was also presented with the Parents' Choice Award at the My VIP Card awards in October, and has won a Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday Award.
As for the future she hopes to expand into new counties in 2020. "I never started this thinking I was going into business," she says. "I just thought my kids would enjoy coming to this."
To find out where Trainmaster is pulling up next visit the website at trainmaster.co.uk/